Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Nature is a Necessity
You can’t overstate the importance of green spaces within large cities. Whether they’re small or large, they provide us with places to escape the noise of the city and instead enjoy the sounds of wildlife, a place where our eyes can rest rather than track the constant motion of a city. For children especially, green spaces allow a sense of freedom, an encouragement to move with exuberance, and the opportunity to watch nature’s transitions through the seasons.
The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
Houston has many beautifully manicured parks, but not as many that allow nature to exist on her own terms. One of the few parks that takes its cue from nature, rather than the other way around, is the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center.
As is the case in many of Houston’s parks, the nature center has been quite severely impacted by a number of stressors. Hurricane Ike and the drought that followed resulted in the deaths of half the trees in the park. Using that sad circumstance for some good, the center has chosen to develop a plan for restoring the land they care for to the way it appeared before settlers arrived and molded the land to their needs. We’re offered very few opportunities to see the Texas landscape in its natural state, so making regular trips to the nature center as it makes the transition will be something to look forward to!
The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center places a heavy emphasis on education. A number of years ago, we visited the nature center with our homeschool group, and also returned for a talk by the East Texas Herpetological Society. The visitor center offers some interesting permanent displays in their Discovery Room that I would highly recommend having a look at.
The Magical Meadow
On the day of our August visit, we arrive around noon, which is realistically not the best time for picture taking! The shaded pathways are obviously a big help, but once we arrive at the meadow, we’re out in the open. I must say that I think the meadow is pure magic. I discover a surprisingly large number of wildflowers in bloom, with tall Gay Feathers sprinkled throughout the field. The grasses grow chest high and seem to compete with us for space on the narrow path through the field. Along the way, we discover some very large grasshoppers sitting on the grass stems. I’m perfectly willing to admire them from a distance, but really don’t want one flying at me. I hate to think of the involuntary sounds that might escape me. I think my daughter Karoline might be having the same thoughts, because she makes a beeline for the pond.
A Lily Pad Covered Pond
When I arrive at the pond, it’s to discover that there’s no water to be seen. It’s completely covered by vegetation, especially lily pads. I wonder if the three turtles sitting on a log in the middle of the pond like the lily pad cover. It might block the sun from heating the water. Then again, maybe it simply blocks heat from escaping. It would be nice to have a naturalist on hand at times like this.
Making our way to the swamp that’s located close to the visitor center, we step back onto a board walk. I assume that indicates this area is inundated by standing water after a heavy rain. In any case, I always enjoy the echoing sound of footfalls on a boardwalk.
Follow the Map
I’m sure we could have found a trail map at the visitor center, but I often choose to look it up online and capture a screen shot of the map. The trails at the nature center are very well marked, but without the map, we wouldn’t know which direction to walk. Even if we do walk down the wrong path, the trails aren’t long enough that we need to worry about getting lost.
The Sounds of the Swamp
After managing to avoid any wrong turns, we arrive at the small swamp area. Somewhere in the grass there’s a bull frog in mid conversation. It’s clearly quite the extended monologue, so I use the opportunity to look for him. Just trying to locate the source of the sound is difficult, so I quickly give up and return to my search for insects and flowers. I don’t have much time for this since we’re beginning to bake in the hot sun. After the fourth “OK then…” from Karoline, I reluctantly take the cue to leave.